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What is the Difference Between a Pale Ale and an Indian Pale Ale?

Home > Melbourne > Food and Wine
by Clay Steele (subscribe)
Nutritionist & Life Coach Meeting all requirements to call myself so (i.e. none)
Published September 4th 2012
Addressing all the important issues
The class-clown answer is of course that one is from India, however the Australian brand James Squire produces both upon the sunny shores of this proud nation. With the recent introduction of a new marketing campaign they have been given different names.

"I'm drinking the Chancer" one might say proudly.

"Well I'm drinking the Nine Tales" another one might respond.

"Shouldn't that be Nine Tails, as in 'Cat o' Nine Tails' if we're referencing James Squire's convict heritage?"

"I did say Nine Tails"

"Oh that's right, this is the documentation of a hypothetical conversation so I would have heard that phonetically and not seen the word written, my mistake"

Ahem, sorry.

According to the James Squire website Indian Pale Ale (or 'the Stowaway') actually originated from England, however the fact that it was bound for India is how it came to be so named. Apparently IPA was brewed to contain extra alcohol so that it would survive the long sea-journey from England to India.

The only problem I have with this account is that the same source also claims that male convict James Squire smuggled himself aboard the female only ship bound for Australia in 1787. The veracity of this statement was probably not a prime consideration of the intrepid James Squire marketing team but it does call into question other claims made on their little website.

So how do the two drinks themselves differ? To investigate I took it upon myself to sample a Pale Ale and an Indian Pale Ale produced by the same brewer.
PA & IPA together
An IPA and its PA

In a clear attempt to avoid my hard hitting journalistic investigation the Pale Ale (or 'One Fifty Lashes') is conspicuous in its absence from Mr Squire's website. Oh James, your silence only condemns you further!

Fortunately the point of purchase was not nearly so tight-lipped and I was able to procure a bottle of each for $3.50 a turn, rum no longer being a currency used in the colony. Unlike my investigation into the difference between a Café Latte and a Flat White (otherwise known as the Great Flatte Debate) I found that the two beverages do differ markedly.

First, the pale ale. When poured it revealed an ale that was, well, pale - a transparent brew that sparkled delightfully in the afternoon sunshine. As with most pale ales there was a slight bitterness tempered by an almost floral finish.
PA & Glass
The pale ale

The Indian Pale Ale on the other hand was not pale at all; much more cloudy with an amber hue this beer was heavier and more bitter. It certainly strayed into what I call the 'washing detergent effect' purveyed by pilseners (the irascible merlot of the beer world in my opinion) leaving a less than pleasant aftertaste for mine.
IPA & Glass
The Indian Pale Ale

Jimmy's marketeers were certainly right about one thing; the IPA contains 5.0% alcohol while the Pale Ale contains just 4.2%. Normally I lean toward heavier beers that tip the scales between 4.6 - 6% alcohol content however if I had to nominate a winner I would have to go with the welterweight rather than the cruiserweight on this occasion.

The Pale Ale struck me as a much more pleasant beer to enjoy, particularly if imbibing in the more tropical climes of southern India. So although the IPA was brewed for the Brit's in India, it would perhaps be more suited to a cold evening on the moors in Old Blighty rather than with your curry in Chennai.

Whatever the case, the differences between the two pale ales are surprisingly conspicuous.
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Why? 4 year olds ask less questions than you!
When: Warm weather
Where: At t' pub
Cost: $3.50 at the bottle-o, $7 at the pub
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